THE UK Government has been accused of accelerating spending on pro-Union Facebook advertising in Scotland in recent months in an effort to "influence" voters before May's council elections.

The “UK Government Scotland” Facebook page saw £25,000-£33,000 spent on advertising between February and March – significantly higher than the spend in the preceding six months, which ranged from £2100 to £11,600.

Some £13,411 was funded by the Scotland Office during the February-March period, in line with its monthly averages. Other UK departments appear to have funded the remaining thousands spent through the page, which is officially run by the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland but more generally “represents Scottish interests in the UK and UK interests in Scotland”.

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A significant increase in Levelling Up messaging appears to be responsible for the massive increase in advertising costs, with one advert estimated to cost between £10,000 and £15,000 running from February 17 to March 8.

Some of these Levelling Up adverts, which feature a video of a shining map of the UK alongside the text “Levelling Up means high streets you can be proud of, better schools, brighter futures, improved transport”, were shared across Scotland. Others were more targeted, with specialised copy for audiences in Oban and Callander.

The National:

No new advertising has been placed on the UK Government Scotland page since March 25. From mid-April to May 5, the Government is expected to adhere to purdah rules – meaning it must take care over announcements and activity which could have an influence on the election.

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP’s spokesperson for constitutional affairs at Westminster, said Scottish voters would not be “conned” by the advertising push.

“They were trying to accelerate spending before purdah cut in,” the MP said.

“I’m not aware of any new need the public has for information about the UK Government so clearly this is an attempt by their strategists to try and enhance the profile of the Union in the hope that it may influence the vote,” he told The National. “But I doubt if it’s going to work, I don’t think Scottish taxpayers are conned by having their own money used to influence their opinions.”

The National:

On the Levelling Up advertising push, Sheppard said the Tory slogan “means practically nothing”.

“It’s being used to try and give the impression that the UK Government is on your side and doing good things – the actual substance of it is paltry,” he said. “The main thing they do about levelling up is just talking about. The levelling down that’s taking place this month with the benefit cuts and the tax hikes, it’s just atrocious.”

The department's advertising spend will be published later this year as part of routine transparency commitments.

Meanwhile, SNP president and former Scottish Government constitution secretary Michael Russell (below) said Westminster has “form” for this increase in pro-Union advertising spend.

The National:

“Increasing spending on advertising in the run up to elections in Scotland is a shabby underhand attempt to buy votes,” he added.

Ahead of the Holyrood election last year, the UK Government also increased its spending on its Scotland-focused Facebook page. In January 2021, some £4300 was spent on advertising on the page, before this was ramped up tenfold to between £48,000 and £54,500 in the pre-purdah, February-March period.

A spokesperson for the UK Government said: "The Scotland Office fully follows the election guidance around the local council elections. Any suggestion otherwise is factually inaccurate.

"Between February and March 2022, the Scotland Office spent £13,411 on advertising on Facebook. This is in line with monthly averages throughout the year.

"Our channels also carry central government spending which appears on government accounts across the UK. These carry our Facebook disclaimer but are paid for from budgets in other departments, including Covid and Levelling Up messaging."